It’s worth flocking to this triumphant reprise of Mother Goose, which originated in this form in 1902 and was last performed at Hackney Empire in 2014. As the show begins, Hackneywood is feeling the pinch. Rents are sky-high, with landlord Squire Purchase (Tony Marshall) keeping tabs on everyone’s Experian scores and threatening to evict makeover guru Mother Goose (Clive Rowe). Lucky, then, that Priscilla (Ruth Lynch), her honking BFF – Best Feathered Friend – has started laying golden eggs. The bad news is that it’s part of a plan by the Demon Queen (Rebecca Parker) to steal Mother Goose’s soul.
This is Rowe’s 15th panto at the Empire – he directs this one, too, marshalling a supporting cast of bouncy teens and tweens, and including a touching tribute to the venue’s 120-year history. His performance, somehow both brassy and delicate, shows why he is a master of the form; he guides and shapes the high jinks without upstaging his co-stars (including the infectiously funny Kat B) even when dressed in Cleo Pettitt’s spectacular costumes. These include a nest of spangly flames for his transformation into the diva OMG, and a frock modelled on the theatre itself, complete with stage door round the back.
Parker brings vampish glee and comic nuance to the Demon Queen, who preys on her victims while they are in screen-induced trances, though Will Brenton’s script creates a curious paradox. Whenever she remarks that social media are exacerbating our anxieties or turning us into zombies, she sounds less like a villain than the voice of reason. This must be the first panto in which the boos risk being drowned out by cries of “hear, hear”.
• At Hackney Empire, London, until 31 December.